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Industrial Permaculture? Machine Harvesting Hazelnuts - Badgerset Research Farm

Posts: 147
Location: Anoka Sand Plain, MN Zone 4/5, Sunset Zone 43
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I am just going to post this press release I got emailed because I thought it was cool:


Hybrid Bush Hazels Can Out-Produce Soybeans

The Public and Press are invited to attend and observe the First Machine Harvest in Minnesota of a highly promising new crop; hybrid bush hazelnuts.

“We’ve been working toward this day for 2 decades. The dozens of growers who already have hazels planted have been counting on our prediction that we would be able to machine harvest these neohybrid hazelnut bushes. Now we’ve made the prediction come true: the machine is here - and it works.” says Badgersett CEO and Chief Scientist Philip Rutter; “The reason it took two decades was not the lack of a machine; we needed big enough fields of big enough bushes to warrant the machine. We actually had the field ready last year, but weren’t able to arrange a machine in time- the nuts mostly went to feed wildlife. This year, a grower came through, took the leap, and purchased a machine. He’s already glad he did, and we’re ecstatic.”

Hybrid hazelnuts were developed and introduced to the Midwest by Badgersett Research Corporation (BRC). As early as 1994, major plantings of Badgersett hazels were installed at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, and at Arbor Day Farm, Nebraska. Seen by many as an “oilseed” crop, the USDA recently awarded a $1.3 Million grant to 3 universities to pursue development across the nation. “It’s actually more than an oilseed. Sure; the oil is hugely important; the hazel kernel is about 60% oil, compared to 20% for soybeans. In addition, the hazel oil quality is fabulous; it’s literally the exact chemical twin of olive oil. But these plants produce far more; every year, for example, they produce nutshell, which can be used as fuel in a dozen ways; and don’t forget they’re woody plants- we harvest the wood as another crop.” Rutter says. “That’s more money in the farmer’s pocket. Ask any farmer if he could use a little more.” he grins.  “Even the nut husk is going to be a money crop someday- wait and see!”

The machine being demonstrated is a used blueberry harvester, previously working to pick Michigan highbush blueberries. “Our goal from the outset was to develop a sustainable crop that real farmers; corn and bean row-crop farmers, could actually adopt.  The neohybrid hazels are exactly that- you plant them just once in your lifetime; harvest now with a machine that drives like a combine; dry it in the grain dryer you already own; store it in the grain bin you already own, and in time you’ll sell it at the elevator, just like corn and beans. The nut is similar enough to soybeans that we could convert a soybean crushing plant quite easily to hazelnut processing- and not put anyone out of work.” says Dr. Brandon Rutter, an engineer and BRC COO. “It likely jobs will be added- as an industrial feedstock, the hazels are actually more versatile than soybeans. We know the soy people won’t believe that- but we can prove it.” he smiles.  The company uses the term “neohybrid” to distinguish their plants from hybrid corn; “What’s going on in the chromosomes of these plants is utterly, totally, diametrically different from what happens in hybrid corn. Both kinds of hybrid genetics have huge advantages; but they are completely unlike, and yes, it’s going to be important for farmers to understand that, at least a little.” says founder Philip Rutter.

Visitors and press who come to see the harvester at work at Badgersett Farm should be aware that they won’t be seeing a full scale harvest. Philip says, “Most of our best bushes on this farm have already been picked, by hand; so we can gather the data on the individual bush performance. Everyone will be able to see the reality, though- this machine picks hazelnuts just fine, and we already have specific modifications in mind. There are still lots of nuts. We’ll be able to harvest quite a few plants and rows we haven’t been able to get picked in other years; we just didn’t have the time. The truth- just before I left for Illinois, to use the machine there on that large experimental field, I was depressed. We have so many hazel plants here; thousands of them; we simply haven’t had the time to collect the data we need and get them picked. I was thinking we should stop adding to our plantings, so we could evaluate the huge number of genetic variants we already have. But- coming back from using the machine? It hit me. We need a lot more plants, a lot more fields. We just jumped the scale of the crop way, way, up.”
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